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What I Would Do To You by Georgia Harper

27/05/2024
What I Would Do To You by Georgia Harper

Psychologist and farmer Georgia Harper has drawn on her varied experiences and expertise to craft a speculative fiction book that explores the impact of crime on the families of victims and the working of the justice system. What I Would Do To You feels a little like an ethics-based thought experiment that has been adapted into a novel. It is told mainly through the eyes of a therapist to a family that is dealing with an unfathomable loss.

What I Would Do To You is set in future Brisbane (2039) in which capital punishment has been reintroduced. But it is not that simple. In this new system only the family of the victim can decide to administer that ultimate punishment. If the family refuses, the perpetrator is given a life sentence instead. Central to the narrative is Octavia,  a psychologist assigned to a family whose ten-year-old daughter Lucy was murdered a year before. But Octavia’s job is not just to counsel the family, she also has to work with the family as they wrestle with making their decision. That family consists of mothers Matisse and Stella and teenage sister Hannah who live on the family cattle farm outside of Brisbane (also where the murder happened) and 25-year-old son Sebastian who is a vet in Brisbane.

As already noted, the premise of What I Would Do To You is such that it feels a little like a thought experiment – the question being: what if the justice system went back to the very biblical “eye for an eye”. This feeling is bolstered by the fact that although set in 2039 very little else is different about the world Harper presents. So that this is not really about world building of a future Australia but testing an idea in a futuristic remove.

With its central character being a therapist most of the story is also told very much at a remove. Characters sit down with Octavia and narrate their stories. Where that is not possible (say with the perpetrator) Octavia watches a recorded interview. This results in a mainly expository style (mostly telling rather than showing). Despite some interesting twists and turns, this style increases the feeling that the reader is being told things rather than experiencing them.

The issues that Harper does deal with are emotion laden and complex. And the subject matter makes for a tough read – this is the story about murder and the processing of grief that also brings up other emotive issues including domestic violence and child abuse. In this respect, Harper’s lens of a therapist main character gives her (and her readers) emotional room to manage these issues sensitively.

Harper set herself a high level of difficulty for a debut novel. An exploration of notions of justice, victim rights, grief and revenge among other things, with plenty of grey area to get readers thinking and talking. So that while it does not always hit the mark as an engaging piece of fiction What I Would Do To You shows a writer with great skill and plenty of promise for what might come next.

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What I Would Do To You by Georgia Harper

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